Exchange Admin's Holiday Gift Guide 2009

First off: Happy Thanksgiving! Whether or not you celebrate the American holiday, I encourage you to take a few minutes to reflect on the many things we all have to be thankful for in our lives.

Every year around this time, I like to put together a holiday gift guide. There are tons of sites out there trumpeting the best deals on items such as big-screen TVs, laptops, and the like, but what I wanted was a guide to smaller, simpler gifts. (As always, I haven't been compensated in any way for these recommendations—they're just things I think you might like.)

How about a little stress relief? Last year, my wonderful wife gave me a Gripmaster Prohands, a small hand exerciser. I've found that it's incredibly useful during aggravating conference calls, unwanted office visits, and other occasions that would normally raise my stress level. A few dozen squeezes on the Gripmaster and I'm calm and happy once again.

I travel a lot, so I bought an Amazon Kindle a couple of years ago, and I've been very happy with it. But why buy a dedicated device if you already have a laptop or PC? Instead, give that special someone an Amazon gift card and a link to the free Windows version of the Kindle software; they'll have access to Amazon's huge library of electronic titles. (And to forestall a storm of mail from irritated readers: Yes, I know DRM-protected eBooks are less than optimal, but to me the benefits of being able to read such a wide range of titles on the go are worth the minor additional hassles.)

Food is always a popular gift item, especially around the holidays. I've long recommended Blair's Death Rain Habanero chips, but this year I have developed a new appreciation for spicy chocolate. The contrast of a good-quality dark chocolate and the spice of cayenne or other peppers make a wonderful combination of sweetness and spice. There are lots of different brands, and they tend to vary by region and store, so you might need to experiment. High-end grocery stores such as Whole Foods, or dedicated chocolate shops such as The Chocolate Shoppe are good places to look for these.

If you're feeling charitable this holiday season, there are many worthwhile causes that would benefit from a donation in your recipient's name. I'd suggest the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has done a great deal to help clarify case law around electronic messaging, the National Transplant Assistance Fund, or Share Our Strength. In addition, Heifer International provides a great opportunity for you to give a water buffalo, duck, beehive, or other wildlife in your recipient's name.

And a non-holiday-related tip: Take a look at Mark Minasi's "Time to Get Green with 'Bluejuice,'" which asks the provocative question, “Why can’t electronics companies standardize power connections and batteries?”

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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